SENATE DEMOCRATS DELIVER ON JUSTICE REFORM PRIORITIES

RICHMOND -- In the wake of the death of  George Floyd, the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus set in motion a process to craft what would ultimately become our criminal justice and racial equity agenda for the 2020 special session of the Virginia General Assembly. We held a widely attended series of virtual regional community conversations to collect feedback and ideas from Virginians in every corner of the Commonwealth. After the release of our agenda, we continued to engage in dialogue across the Commonwealth. 

In June, we unveiled our special session legislative priorities. Today, four weeks into the 2020 special session, we are proud to announce that we have passed impactful, landmark legislation that addresses inequities that permeate every aspect of our criminal justice system:

  1. BRINGING EQUITY TO VIRGINIA POLICING

On a 21-19 vote, we passed Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie E. Locke’s (D-Hampton) SB 5030, an ambitious omnibus package that includes the following measures:

  • Prohibit No Knock Warrants (Breonna Taylor)
  • Ban Sex With Individuals Arrested by Law Enforcement
  • Prohibit Hiring of Officers Fired or Resigned During Use of Force Investigations
  • Expands Decertification Procedure for Law Enforcement Officers
  • Ban chokeholds and strangleholds (George Floyd)
  • Require Attempts at De-escalation Prior to Use of Force
  • Require Warnings Before Shots Fired
  • Require Law Enforcement to Exhaust All Other Means Prior to Using Deadly Force 
  • Create Duty to Intervene by Fellow Law Enforcement Officers
  • Prohibit Shooting at Moving Motor Vehicles 
  • Require Departments to Create a Use of Force Continuum 
  • Require Comprehensive Reporting by All Law Enforcement Agencies Including Use of Force Data
  • Requires De-escalation Training and Standardizes Minimum Training
  • Eliminate Increased Law Enforcement Funding if Agency Fails to Obtain Accreditation

We also passed Senator Scott Surovell’s (D-Mount Vernon) SB 5032, which eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for an assault and battery committed against a law enforcement officer while ensuring that the malicious wounding statute remains strong. This landmark piece of legislation protects Virginians with developmental and intellectual disabilities while restoring public trust and confidence in law enforcement. 

Through Senate President pro tempore L. Louise Lucas’ (D-Portsmouth) SB 5024, we are establishing the authority of the Attorney General to investigate police departments that deprive persons of rights, privileges or immunities. The bill passed 21-18.

  1. EXPANDING LOCAL AUTHORITY TO RESPOND TO MENTAL HEALTH AND REGULATE LAW ENFORCEMENT

Senator Ghazala Hashmi’s (D-Chesterfield) SB 5035 creates a local option for citizen review boards empowered to investigate, fire and/or discipline officers. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.

Senator Jeremy McPike’s (D-Prince William) SB 5038 grants localities the authority to establish mental health mobile crisis co-response teams. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.

  1. RESTORING COURTS’ AND PROSECUTORS’ FLEXIBILITY TO EFFECT MERCY

Senator Surovell's SB 5033 restores fairness to our courts by allowing prosecutors to drop charges for good cause. This measure cleared the Senate with broad bipartisan support on a 30-6 vote. 

Senator Creigh Deeds’ (D-Bath County) SB 5043 enhances courts’ ability to expunge charges for dismissed charges, substance convictions, and pardoned offenses. This measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support on a 38-2 vote. 

  1. TACKLING RACIAL PROFILING IN LAW ENFORCEMENT

Senator Lucas led the fight against racial profiling by Virginia's law enforcement officers by introducing SB 5029. By limiting the number of pretexts for which a driver can be pulled over, we are taking an important step toward eliminating racial profiling in traffic stops. This landmark piece of legislation also prohibits officers from being able to search a car on the grounds of the odor of marijuana alone. SB 5029 cleared the Senate on a 21-15 vote. 

  1. RESTORING EQUITY TO THE SENTENCING PROCESS

Senator Joe Morrissey’s (D-Richmond) SB 5007 reforms jury sentencing, making it available at the option of the accused rather than mandatory. It also eliminates the Commonwealth’s right to demand a jury trial when jury trials are suspended for a State of Emergency. The measure cleared the Senate on a 22-18 vote. 

SB 5045, also introduced by Senator Surovell, requires the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission to prepare fiscal impact statements that reflect the potential costs and potential savings associated with any legislation relating to the Virginia prison system. This measure will bring fiscal transparency to the consideration of future justice reform measures. The bill cleared the Senate on a 21-13-1 vote. 

  1. RESTORING EQUITY TO THE VIRGINIA PRISON SYSTEM

Senator Jennifer Boysko’s (D-Fairfax) SB 5034 expands earned sentence credits for good behavior. It also creates discretion for compassionate release for terminally ill or permanently disabled prisoners, as well as geriatric release. The bill has cleared the committee process and is now making its way to the Senate floor.

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BACKGROUND

Senate Democrats have led in the area of justice reform for years and we remain committed to continuing to work with our colleagues, advocacy groups and constituents and stakeholders through the special session and beyond to craft meaningful legislation addressing the issues of transparency and accountability in policing and public safety while continuing to build community trust. 

During the 2020 legislative session, Senate Democrats were proud to sponsor legislation enacted into law to:

  • Codify the end of license suspensions for unpaid court fines [Stanley, SB 1 which incorporates Ebbin, SB 10; Edwards, SB 514; Morrissey, SB 814],
  • Decriminalize marijuana possession [Ebbin, SB 2],
  • Prohibit disorderly conduct charges in school settings [McClellan, SB 3],
  • Created first new Public Defender’s Office in Virginia since 2004 in second largest jurisdiction in Virginia [Surovell, SB 72], 
  • Establish reporting requirements for incidents involving school resource officers [Locke, SB 170],
  • Establish training standards for school resource officers [Locke, SB 171],
  • Allow deferred dispositions with dismissal for first offense misdemeanor larcenies [Deeds, SB 286], 
  • Remove driving restrictions on restricted licenses for convicts subject to alcohol monitoring [Surovell, SB 439],
  • Raise the age for juveniles to be charged as adults [Edwards, SB 546],
  • Simplified requirements for immunity of persons reporting overdoses to law enforcement [Boysko, SB 667], 
  • Raise Virginia's misdemeanor-felony threshold from being the lowest in the nation [McClellan, SB 788],
  • Authorize resentencing for individuals wrongfully sentenced after the Fishback case [Morrissey, SB 821]. 

There were a number of iInitiatives championed by Senate Democrats in 2020 that passed the Senate but did not make it through the House:

  • Prohibiting imposition of death penalty to person with severe mental illness [Favola, SB 116],
  • Ban sexual relations between officers and inmates or parolees [Marsden, SB 242],
  • Allow jury to recommend leniency [Deeds, SB 326], 
  • Require judges to explain failure to use of recommended evidence-based non-incarceration sentencing alternatives [Surovell, SB 438],
  • Defelonize consensual sexting between minors [Surovell, SB 440],
  • Reinstate prosecutors and judges’ authority to reduce/drop charges upon terms and conditions [Surovell, SB 489],
  • Compassionate release of permanently disabled prisoners [Bell, SB 493],
  • Expunge marijuana/alcohol/tobacco charges dismissed per successful rehabilitation program completion; expunge marijuana/tobacco/alcohol/fake ID convictions occurring before age 21 [McDougle, SB 517],
  • Expunge convictions pardoned by Governor [Norment, SB 608],
  • Creation and implementation of policies for developmental disabilities [McClellan, SB 716],
  • Analyze and collect data, reporting standards as it pertains to bail [McClellan, SB 723],
  • Require recording of all in-custody interrogations [McClellan, SB 730], 
  • Reduce maximum sentence for robberies without physical injuries from life to terms of years, [Morrissey, SB 805], 
  • Allowing court appointed defendants to seek expert witness assistance on an ex parte basis without involvement of prosecutors [Morrissey, SB 806],
  • Defelonzing third offense petit larceny [Morrissey, SB 807],
  • Require Virginia Sentencing Commission recommendations to be published to juries before sentencing [Morrissey, SB 810], 
  • Eliminate jury sentencing [Morrissey, SB 811].

It is our hope that these policy proposals will now have a chance to move forward, either during the current special session or during the next regular session. We remain committed to championing these policies and we look forward to working with the Governor and the House of Delegates to move these priorities forward in the spirit of collaboration.

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